The Furies Within

“By refusing to claim moral or personal authority, Auden placed himself firmly on one side of an argument that pervades the modern intellectual climate but is seldom explicitly stated, an argument about the nature of evil and those who commit it.

On one side are those who, like Auden, sense the furies hidden in themselves, evils they hope never to unleash, but which, they sometimes perceive, add force to their ordinary angers and resentments, especially those angers they prefer to think are righteous. On the other side are those who can say of themselves without irony, ‘I am a good person,’ who perceive great evils only in other, evil people whose motives and actions are entirely different from their own. This view has dangerous consequences when a party or nation, having assured itself of its inherent goodness, assumes its actions are therefore justified, even when, in the eyes of everyone else, they seem murderous and oppressive.”

From Edward Mendelson’s recent essay, “The Secret Auden.” Read the rest for an elaboration of this point and much else worth your consideration.

In his closing paragraph, Mendelson cites a line from Montaigne which Auden once used as an epigraph. I leave you with it:

“We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”

6 thoughts on “The Furies Within

  1. Thoughtful and thought-provoking post and article, too. I’m not familiar with Auden to add a comment on his work, but I read Montaigne in my French schools and universities and I am constantly amazed that his words continue to resonate in 2014. Thank you also for your unique blog, which I discovered only recently. Proof that the best aren’t always under the spotlight.

  2. Not very familiar with Auden…so I wonder…

    If the citizen can see himself in the dictator enough to not claim any kind of moral or personal authority, how does he respond to the dictator. Certainly, there is a kind of truth in the article’s quote of Auden, “we cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.” And certainly, a kind of tolerance this evokes can be in short supply. But what then is the basis for resistance to evil?

    I don’t mean to suggest I have the answer to this, I just wonder if Auden confronted the issue.

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